"Have you ever wrecked one of these?" I ask as our burnt-orange Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse bursts onto the Julia Tuttle Causeway. Butch Leitzinger shakes his head. The mild-mannered man is Bugatti's official driver, but a better title would be "pilot." With a top speed of 260 mph, the Veyron is more turbojet than Toyota.
"I had one crazy Canadian who tried to," Leitzinger yells over the roar of the 1,200-horsepower engine just behind our heads. "We came up on a 180-degree turn against the mountain, and he steps on the brake and the car goes 'pop' " -- Leitzinger turns his hand sideways to show how the car skidded on the ice -- "And I think, OK, we're dead."
Instead, the supersmart car righted itself just in time. I squeeze out a nervous grin.
Leitzinger and I are on a high-octane, two-hour test drive of the Vitesse -- at $2.5 million, the most expensive car in the world. As he steers us south onto I-95, my stomach puckers: after a quick demo, I'll be the one behind the wheel.
I do the math in my head. This beast would take me 70 years of work to buy. And that's if I didn't pay taxes. Or eat.
"Let me pull back a bit so I can show you the acceleration," Leitzinger says cheerily a few minutes later. "I'm taking it down to second gear and..."
Vrrroooom! The air seems to split in front of us. My head hits the cushion. My skin ripples back on my skull, and my eyes dilate with delight. Bath salts? Try a Bugatti.
Leitzinger exits onto the Rickenbacker Causeway and pulls over: My turn. Adjusting the mirrors, I'm doubtful New Times would cover a $2.5 million auto claim.
I start by driving slowly -- or at least what feels slow. When a flashing road sign alerts me to slow down, I realize, Holy shit, I've been doing 75 mph in a 45 zone. "They had to make the speedometer bigger because at first, people didn't realize how fast they were going," Leitzinger says.
Then comes the intentional speeding. Using triggers on the side of the wheel, I tap the car down into second gear. For a moment, the Rickenbacker is as empty and inviting as the Autobahn. I gun it and life dissolves into a blur of color and light. By the time I reach the bend in the road a few seconds later, the speedometer has hit triple digits.
Next, we head to South Beach because dammit, I've got a Bugatti for two hours and I might as well impress some chicks. It doesn't take long. Driving a $2.5 million car is like handing out hundred-dollar bills with David Hasselhoff: You quickly attract attention.
"Go, Michigan State!" screams a gorgeous blonde wearing a ponytail and eye black as she sits in the passenger seat of a Ford Mustang. Noticing our confusion, she says, "Your license plate says Michigan. You're here for the basketball game tonight, right?"
Rather than dispel her illusion, I step on the gas.
When we cross Lincoln Road, it's like taking center stage at Wimbledon. Random strangers yell at us: "Hell yeah!" and "What kind of a car is that?" while snapping photos and touching the car. Two Scandinavian models actually stop and tilt down their sunglasses to stare at us. My life has become a motion picture.
On Fifth Street, a pearl-white Ferrari 458 Spider stops behind us and the driver screams for us to pull over. We duck into a gas station.
"What the hell is going on here, boys?" croaks the man, who turns out to be a 54-year-old insurance mogul named Eric Giglione. "This is the most beautiful fucking car I've ever seen. Is this your bad boy?" he asks me. When he hears I'm a journalist, he laughs. "I thought you were Justin Bieber."
"I bet this baby's got a lot of ugh," Giglione says, performing a hip thrust. "It's all about the pussy, after all. You know what I'm talking about."
As if on cue, two women on bicycles pull up next to the sport cars. Their eyes move from us to the cars and back again as the brunette fumbles to inflate her tire. She gets down on her knees.
"I'm sorry," she says innocently as Butch walks over to help. "I lost the little top part."
"Do you think all the air will come out?" her blonde friend asks. When Butch finds the cap, they smile and say thank you, but keep standing there. ("Yeah, that seemed a bit staged," Butch says later.) Like the women, Giglione is also in love, now determined to buy his own Bugatti. "What money can't buy, more money will," he says.
As we leave the station, a woman with a shiny purple tiara yells for us to wait. "I want to take a picture!" she says. "It's my birthday. Can I take drive the car around the block?"
"Um, no," Leitzinger says. "Sorry."
The woman's boyfriend hangs back, a bit embarrassed. Maybe he could buy her a Bugatti for a birthday gift? "If I win the Powerball tonight," he says.
As I drive us back to New Times HQ, I have one last request.
"Well, that's a first," Leitzinger says as we pull into a Taco Bell drive-thru. I order the cheapest item on the menu: a bean burrito with no onions.
"Are you sure that's all you want?" the dude at the cash register asks when I pull up. "Damn, that's a nice ride!" the teenager says as he hands me a steaming tube of trans-fat-filled lard. "I'd have to sell a lot of tacos to buy that thing!"
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Moments later, I step out of the Bugatti and back into my life as a professional journalist whose only flirtation is with poverty.
As Leitzinger pulls away in the car I never knew I always wanted, I count my change. Taco Bell Boy stiffed me 9 cents. I guess he figured that if I was driving that car, I didn't need it.
I shake my head and shuffle inside to fill out an expense report for $1.06.